US Attorney – Colombian Narco-Terror Group Associate Extradited to US

MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York, and MICHELE M. LEONHART, Acting
Administrator of the United States Drug Enforcement
Administration (“DEA”), today announced that JUAN JOSE MARTINEZ
VEGA, a/k/a “Gentil Alvis Patino,” a/k/a “Chiguiro,” a close
associate of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia
(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or “FARC”), has been
extradited from Colombia to the United States to face cocaine
importation conspiracy charges. The FARC is Colombia’s main
leftist rebel group, which has been designated by the State
Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. On March 1,
2006, the United States unsealed an historic indictment charging
fifty defendants — all the FARC’s top leadership (the “FARC
leaders”) — with cocaine importation conspiracy. According to
the Indictment:

The FARC, which occupies large swaths of territory in
Colombia, is responsible for the production of more than half the
world’s supply of cocaine and nearly two-thirds of the cocaine
imported into the United States. During its tenure, the FARC has
evolved from a leftist rebel organization into the world’s
leading cocaine manufacturer. In the mid-1980s, as cocaine
production in Colombia began to expand, the FARC taxed all
aspects of the cocaine trade. In the 1990s, the FARC leaders,
recognizing the profit potential of the cocaine trade, ordered
that the FARC become the exclusive buyers of the raw material to
make cocaine, known as cocaine paste, in all areas under FARC
occupation.

The FARC leaders set strict rules to control the
cocaine trade, including the requirement that farmers sell all
cocaine paste they produced to the FARC at the prices set by the
defendants. Large markets were set up throughout Colombia, where
farmers sold the cocaine paste. The FARC leaders stated that
enforcement of such rules was crucial to the FARC’s survival,
because the organization would not be able to finance its
operations without the money it earned through the cocaine trade.
The FARC leaders required their commanders to enforce FARC’s
cocaine policies through violent, often lethal means. Calling it
“Revolutionary Justice,” the FARC leaders ordered that any farmer
who violated their cocaine policies should be murdered, an order
which was carried out with frequency.

Once the FARC purchased the cocaine paste, the FARC
leaders directed that the drugs be brought to jungle cocaine
laboratories under FARC control, where the paste was converted
into ton quantities of finished cocaine and shipped out of
Colombia to the United States and elsewhere. To transport the
finished cocaine out of Colombia, the FARC secured and operated
clandestine air strips in its territories.

The FARC is a hierarchical organization comprised of
twelve to eighteen thousand members, and is led by a seven member
Secretariat and a 27 member Central General Staff, or Estado
Mayor, responsible for setting the cocaine policies of the FARC.
At the lowest level, the FARC is made up of 77 distinct military
units organized by their geographical location, called Fronts.
Clusters of Fronts form seven distinct Blocs, each of which is
led by a Bloc Commander. Various FARC Fronts coordinate their
cocaine and cocaine paste manufacturing and distribution
activities, based on their geographical location and whether they
have a local FARC cocaine conversion laboratory. In addition,
Fronts located on Colombia’s borders were primarily responsible
for transporting cocaine outside of Colombia, and facilitating
the exchange of cocaine and cocaine paste for weapons and
supplies used by the FARC. The FARC leaders also required the
Fronts to finance themselves through cocaine manufacturing and
distribution. FARC Fronts able to produce the greatest revenue
were responsible for contributing money and resources to support
other Fronts that generated smaller drug revenues. Narcotics
proceeds were distributed throughout the FARC, for the enrichment
of the Secretariat, Estado Mayor and Bloc Commanders, and in
order to purchase weapons and supplies for all members of the
FARC.

The indicted members of the Secretariat and Estado
Mayor, noting that the FARC could not survive without the
proceeds generated from cocaine manufacturing, directed its
members to attack and disrupt coca eradication fumigation
efforts. The FARC leadership ordered its members to take
countermeasures against fumigation, including shooting down
fumigation aircrafts; forcing local farmers to participate in
rallies against fumigation; and attacking Colombian
infrastructure to force the Colombian Government to divert
resources from fumigation. Recognizing that the United States
has contributed significantly to Colombian fumigation efforts,
the FARC leaders also ordered FARC members to kidnap and murder
United States citizens in order to dissuade the United States
from its continued efforts to fumigate and disrupt the FARC’s
cocaine manufacturing and distribution activities.

Much of the FARC’s conflict with what had been
Colombia’s main right wing paramilitary organization, the
Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, (the “AUC”), has been over
control over coca-growing areas. The FARC’s army has been used,
to a significant degree, to advance its cocaine trafficking
efforts, including through campaigns against the AUC in coca-rich
regions in an attempt to take control of the cocaine profits in
those areas, and strategically defending areas of high coca
production from advances of the Colombian Government.

MARTINEZ VEGA was a FARC associate who worked closely
with the FARC’s 16th Front and assisted the FARC in procuring
weapons, ammunition, money and other materials in exchange for
cocaine and cocaine paste. Over several years, MARTINEZ VEGA
made dozens of such deliveries to the 16th Front, including a
delivery in February 2002 of approximately 37 tons of weapons and
ammunition in exchange for approximately 2,500 kilograms of
cocaine paste and 750 million Colombian pesos. MARTINEZ VEGA is
also alleged to have led, in 1996, a squad of FARC members which
located four other FARC members suspected of stealing arms which
the FARC purchased with cocaine, all of whom were immediately
executed. MARTINEZ VEGA was presented today in District of
Columbia federal court before United States United States
District Judge THOMAS F. HOGAN.

Co-defendant ERMINSO CUEVAS CABRERA, a/k/a “Mincho,”
the first charged FARC leadership defendant to be extradited,
arrived in the United States from Colombia on September 19, 2007.
According to the indictment, CUEVAS CABRERA, a/k/a “Mincho,” was
a manager of cocaine laboratories for the FARC’s 14th Front,
where he oversaw the production and distribution of hundreds of
tons of cocaine for the benefit of the FARC and for his brother,
indicted defendant JOSE BENITO CABRERA CUEVAS, a/k/a “Fabian
Ramirez,” current member of the FARC’s Estado Mayor. CUEVAS-
CABRERA was arraigned on September 20, and ordered detained
pending trial.

Co-defendant JORGE ENRIQUE RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA, a/k/a
“Ivan Vargas,” was extradited from Colombia and had his initial
Court appearance in the United States on November 5, 2007.
RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA served as a member of the Estado Mayor of the
FARC, the Front Commander of the 24th Front, a member of the
leadership of the FARC’s Middle Magdalena Bloc, and a FARC
special forces commander. In these roles, he directed the
purchase of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine paste,
and transmitted billions of Colombian pesos in drug proceeds to
higher ranking FARC officials. He is further charged with
operating a FARC cocaine-processing laboratory. As commander of
the 24th Front, RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA is alleged to have ordered the
murder of at least eight farmers. RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA is also
alleged to have led FARC military campaigns ordered by the FARC
Secretariat against the AUC in order to retake coca-rich lands,
and to have ordered a FARC member to shoot down fumigation
planes. RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA is also alleged to have plotted with
another charged defendant to retaliate against United States law
enforcement officers who were conducting this investigation.
RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA was arraigned on November 29, 2007, and
ordered detained pending trial.

The State Department has offered $75 million in rewards
for information leading to the arrest of the highest-ranking FARC
leadership defendants, who remain fugitives.
“The FARC remains the largest, most profitable, and
most dangerous narcotics trafficking organization in the world.
It poses a serious threat not only in Colombia, but also on the
streets of New York and other American cities, where it’s cocaine
is sold,” said U.S. Attorney GARCIA.

“Juan Martinez-Vega operated at the FARC’s core,
dealing arms and ammunition in exchange for thousands of kilos of
cocaine that ultimately made its way to American neighborhoods,”
said DEA Acting Administrator LEONHART. “Martinez Vega’s
extradition serves as another blow to FARC operations and
demonstrates this country’s aggressive pursuit and prosecution of
drug criminals who seek profit from poison.”

The investigation resulting in these charges was led by
the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of
New York, working with the New York Organized Crime Drug
Enforcement Strike Force (which is comprised of agents and
officers of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration,
the New York City Police Department, the United States Internal
Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Department
of Homeland Security Bureau of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York
State Police, the United States Marshals Service, the United
States Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives), and the DEA’s Bogota, Colombia, Country
Office. The investigation, conducted under the auspices of the
Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) Program,
involved unprecedented cooperation from the Colombian Military,
the Colombian National Police, and the Colombian Fiscalia. Mr.
GARCIA praised all the law enforcement partners involved in the
investigation, and thanked the Criminal Division’s Office of
International Affairs for their involvement in the extradition
process.

The case is being supervised by the Office’s
International Narcotics Trafficking Unit.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely
allegations. All defendants are presumed innocent unless and
until convicted in a court of law.
08-097 ###

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